Saturday, July 19, 2003

The Honorable BBC

Tom Mangold, a former senior BBC correspondent, categorically believes that Dr. David Kelly was Andrew Gilligan’s unwitting source for the accusations leveled in its broadcast against Prime Minister Tony Blair. The BBC, it will be recalled, accused the British government of "sexing up" the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Mangold says:

It is not generally known that David not only briefed Gilligan, but the reporter for the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News the same night. He might also have been the briefer for the BBC TV’s Newsnight.

The hilarious irony was that David Kelly had intended to convince the BBC reporters of the true seriousness of the threat that Saddam Hussein posed. Mangold continues:

"Why did he do it? Simple, really. From the very best of motives. He told me then he was anxious that reporters who did not fully understand the politics and mechanics of weapons of mass destruction should understand quite clearly what Iraq had been up to, and why it might be difficult, perhaps impossible, to find actual weapons. That means delivery systems and warheads all screwed together, filled with biological or chemical agents and ready to go. Rather, he wanted those he briefed to comprehend that Iraq had a programme - it was flexible, it had malicious intent."

Kelly did not reckon on the possibility that the BBC would use selected nuggets from his briefing to advance the opposite conclusion: that the threat from Saddam was wholly overblown. That it was "sexed up". Discussing the Gilligan story later, Mangold and Kelly: 

"laughed about that 'fact' (that it would take 45 minutes for Saddam to arm his weapons) after the Gilligan interview, and he reminded me it would take the most efficient handlers at least 45 minutes just to pour the chemicals or load the biological agents into the warheads. That is why he did not recognise his briefing to Gilligan and assumed that he must have had another source for that information. I wonder if Gilligan or anyone else could have had a better source about weapons of mass destruction than David Kelly."

The BBC accusations unleashed a media firestorm which culminated in a series of investigations in which Kelly was finally summoned to testify. Describing his conversation with BBC correspondent Gilligan before a Parliamentary inquiry, Kelly said he had: 

met Mr Gilligan in the Charing Cross Hotel in London - where the journalist met his source - and that elements of the BBC’s story were similar to things they discussed. "I do realise that in the conversation I had there was reinforcement of some of the ideas that he has put forward," he said. However, Dr Kelly added: "I believe I am not the main source. From the conversation I had [with Mr Gilligan], I don’t see how he could make the statements he was making." Dr Kelly said the "C-word" - a reference to Alastair Campbell, the Downing Street communications chief - had arisen during their meeting, but that it had been Mr Gilligan who mentioned it.

By Gilligan's account his conversation with the main unnamed source -- also at the same Charing Cross Hotel -- was markedly different -- it was the source that had implicated Campell.

Mr Gilligan has told the committee his source informed him the dossier had been "transformed" in the final week before publication with the insertion of the claim that Iraq could deploy weapons within 45 minutes. When he asked his source how this had happened, Mr Gilligan said he made a one-word reply: "Campbell".

If Kelly were indeed main Gilligan's source, then the reporter's ascription of the altered dossier to Campbell had been directly contradicted by the man he was quoting. The BBC, for it's part, skirted this threat to veracity of it's story:

The BBC has refused a request from Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, to confirm whether or not Dr Kelly was the source.

Mangold's clearly believes his industry, and perhaps his former employer contributed to Kelly's death: "This is the moment every reporter dreads. We are all involved in the death of a fine and honourable man whose only motive was to help us to tell the truth. He is dead. We are now alone with our consciences."

What consciences?